Most people are very concerned about one question when first trying meditation: am I doing it right?
There are many classical methods or techniques for meditation, such as:
- chanting a mantra
- paying attention to the breath and the space between breaths
- being a spectator of thoughts
- following an external guide word.
Earlier, when I first tried meditation, I was told by a meditation teacher that the important thing is not to judge how good, bad, or applicable these techniques are but to choose a method that works for you. However, I found myself obsessing over whether one way was better than another and whether other methods were better for me than the one I was currently using.
So I'm still very torn about which mantra to use and whether I should meditate by becoming the observer of my thoughts or just observing the breath.
Practicing meditation turned into a rant about exactly what methods to use and what techniques would help me enter into meditation. One of the critical elements of entering into meditation was far away from me––and that essential element was a relaxation of the mind and body.
It was a struggle for a while, but then I stumbled upon it because I had stopped obsessing about my method and whether this or another approach or technique could work better. That's when I was able to relax. I understood then that different styles could have other effects at different times and in different situations.
This brings us back to the subject of this article: what kind of method or technique should you use for meditation? First, we can take a look at why we need specific techniques when we meditate. There is a straightforward reason why it’s helpful for most of us to use particular methods to enter into meditation.
We need to provide support to the brain, that is, to give it somewhere to rest, so it has a chance to relax and fall into its natural state. The technique approach, therefore, can be analogised to being a cushion for the brain. That’s to say, no technique is the end or the purpose. Instead, it’s a tool to help the mind's thoughts dissolve or go deeper into meditation.
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You can also imagine the meditation method or technique as a portal––a door or pathway that helps us enter the infinite and deep ocean beneath the surface of the mind. This infinitely vast and still space is not just there when you meditate but is always there, where there is absolute peace, clarity, and boundless love.
Sometimes when you step out of the house, you suddenly realize that the blue sky overhead is always there. But the second before, you did not even think about its existence, yet it is indeed always there. Meditation or technique provides a path that takes us through the barriers of thought and into the space of the Self.
Most of us will find a meditation mode that works best: visualization may be more appropriate if you are more visually oriented. If you are somatically oriented, it may be more suitable for focusing on specific physical sensations or the flow of energy through the body. If you are auditory-oriented, a mantra or chanting approach may be better.
So, meditation methods and techniques also vary from person to person. There is no absolute right or wrong way to do it. Everyone has to find the right path for them to follow.
But the most important thing to remember is to allow the attention to become gradually more refined and subtle. No matter what technique is used, a unique feeling arises because an inner energy space accompanies the process.
For example, by repeatedly chanting a mantra, you may experience a very subtle feeling (or ‘prana’ as it is known in Sanskrit) flowing between the throat and the heart, as if each syllable gently strikes the heart’s space.
When you are observing your breath––without following the guidance of a mentor––you may feel the exhalation and inhalation moving in and out of the space in your heart. You may notice a very subtle sensation of your core expanding with every breath.
Or you may notice that the outer body becomes activated with a particular practice. For example, the space between the eyebrows may open up as you observe a candle flame. Or, by observing the rhythm of the breath, you may become aware of the energy flowing through the body with the breath’s rhythm.
An effective way to move into more profound meditation is to remain focused on the subtle sensations and feelings created by the method, whether the inner sensations or a sense of space created by the practice in the present moment.
When we can do that, we automatically fall into the more subtle levels of our being. Often, if I cannot enter into more profound meditation, I must distinguish between the method of meditation and the feeling of meditation.
The critical point is that there is no difference between the meditator, the meditation technique, and the meditation goal: all things are consciousness.
One can practice meditation without necessarily sticking to one particular method or technique. In the end, no matter what approach is used, if you don't feel anything or you don't like it, you are unlikely to stick with it.
In yoga, Sutras Patanjali says:
"Only where the brain finds contentment can you focus there.”
Your meditation techniques begin by taking the mind to the place where it can find contentment. How can your meditation methods and techniques help you to see this? The first thing is to appreciate the exercise, to be able to relax.
Once you get used to a scene like this, the practice becomes more natural. If you find it difficult and need to work hard, you're probably doing the wrong exercise.
If you study meditation under the guidance of a master of some kind, generally, the meditator will quickly get on the path. The meditator will get into meditation speedily and more deeply, with the meditation energy can rising more significantly and flowing more smoothly. However, a meditation practitioner needs to take some detours to explore different methods without such a mentor.
As a beginner meditator, it is necessary to spend some time exploring different methods and techniques. But, as already mentioned, at a certain point, we realize that technique is not the goal but only the door taking us to a broader consciousness. Sometimes this door will be easier to open; sometimes, it will be more challenging.
But don't try to become a meditation technique expert, don't get hung up on methods, and don't cling to one approach. We should explore with curiosity and find our way. Everyone has to follow their unique path, and ultimately no one person can tell another person what she should do.
Simply put, there are no rules about the best way to meditate. Meditation is about calming the mind and entering the endless, peaceful space while each person goes their way.
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